He was deemed to have molested kids at NW Side parish, so why isn’t he on church lists of predator priests?
The Rev. John Baptist Ormechea lives in one of the most picturesque parts of Rome in a centuries-old monastery buffered by gardens and overlooking the ancient Colosseum.
A member of a Catholic religious order the Passionists, Ormechea was moved into the Rome complex in 2003 not for its contemplative setting but, according to the order’s province that includes Chicago, “because all the residences in the province had youth programs or were in a parish setting.”
From the late 1970s to the late 1980s, Ormechea served at Immaculate Conception parish on the Far Northwest Side.
Then, in the early 2000s, several men came forward, saying that, as boys at Immaculate Conception, they were sexually abused there by Ormechea.
The accusations were deemed by church authorities to be credible, which meant Ormechea had to be away from children. He also could have faced criminal charges if the statute of limitations for filing such charges hadn’t expired, the Chicago Sun-Times found.
Such misconduct is exactly the kind of information that, in the wake of yet another national scandal over abusive priests, Cardinal Blase Cupich in Chicago and others in the American Catholic church hierarchy have said the public has a right to know.
Cupich maintains a public list, posted online, of abusive diocesan priests — clerics who worked under his authority or that of his predecessors overseeing the Archdiocese of Chicago.
But you won’t find Ormechea on Cupich’s list. That’s because it doesn’t include abusive clerics who, like Ormechea, belong to the Passionists or any of the other semi-autonomous religious orders, whose operations extend far beyond the boundaries of a single diocese.
You could find out about the allegations against Ormechea that his own order deemed to be credible if the Passionists maintained a similar public list of its clerics.
Many other orders do, encouraged to do so by Cupich, who for years has asked Catholic religious orders that operate within his jurisdiction of Cook and Lake counties to come clean about abuse allegations against their clerics. Such publicly accessible lists of abusers and their assignments would help fill in the gaps that his own list leaves.
But the Passionists haven’t done that.
Neither Cupich nor his top aides would comment. A Cupich spokeswoman previously has said he has left it to the orders to make public any information about their problem priests because they have the best information about them.
Cupich has been collecting detailed information, though, on abusive order priests who have ever worked in the geographic territory that he oversees for Pope Francis or who were found to have abused anyone here, the Sun-Times reported in February. But the cardinal has declined to make that information public even though he posts the same type of information about predator priests who worked under his authority.
Unlike Cupich, many other dioceses release the names and the assignment histories of any priest, regardless of whether they are affiliated with a religious order, who served within their boundaries at any point and faced credible allegations of abuse.
For example, the Archdiocese of Louisville has Ormechea on its list of problem priests even though he’s an order priest. He was serving there at the time the Chicago accusations were made in the early 2000s and was removed from public ministry after the claims were deemed credible.
In 2016, a new child sex abuse allegation was leveled against Ormechea dating to an earlier stint in the Kentucky diocese, in the 1960s, according to church officials.
Victims of priest sex abuse and church reform advocates say these lists are important because they help provide a fuller picture of the scope of child sex abuse within the Catholic church, which has seen waves of scandal and cover-ups since the 1980s and hundreds of millions of dollars in payouts to victims.
They say such lists also can help validate and heal those who have been sexually assaulted by priests, spur more victims to come forward, put the public on alert about the presence of predators and allow the church to fulfill its stated mission of being transparent about its handling of abusive priests.
Timothy Nockels, who says he was molested as a boy by Ormechea when the priest was stationed at Immaculate Conception, sees it as a slap in the face that Ormechea hasn’t faced a more formal acknowledgement by the church regarding the claims church officials found credible that he was a serial child molester.
The Passionists continue to list Ormechea as a priest in staff directories, referring to him by the priestly designation “Father” and noting that he recently has been working in the order’s archives department at the Roman monastery.
“I think he’s a monster pedophile, and essentially he’s still in the business” that allowed him to operate, says Nockels, now 55 and living in Vernon Hills. “When I heard he was in Rome and that he still puts that word ‘Father’ in front of his name, it makes me angry.”
Ormechea, 83, didn’t respond to calls or emails seeking comment. A man answering the phone at his monastery said, “He’s not available,” and hung up on a reporter.
The Rev. Joseph Moons, leader of the Passionists’ Park Ridge-based province that includes Chicago, says Ormechea is in Rome on a “safety plan.” He says that means the priest must abide by restrictions if he wants to stay a part of the order. According to Moons, Ormechea isn’t allowed to take part in any public ministry and is subject to monitoring.
He says the priest was moved to Rome because the province’s other residences “had youth programs or were in a parish setting.”
Ormechea “is not able to move around freely, and his name is already public,” Moons says — apparently referring to the priest’s having been nam...